Whether a child is dealing with trauma, needs to reduce stress and anxiety, or you’re introducing mindfulness in your classroom, calming exercises for kids can help refocus your class and maintain a peaceful environment.
We often think that children are not burdened by everyday stressors, but this isn’t true. Just like adults, children can spiral into negative thoughts and become overwhelmed by internal and external stimulation.
Teaching kids to calm themselves through these calming techniques for toddlers’ exercises encourages self-regulation and social emotional learning (SEL) in early childhood development.
How to Get Started with Calming Exercises for Kids
- Find a quiet place that is free of distractions.
- Make sure your instructions for the child(ren) are clear and engaging.
- You don’t have to do every activity on this list. Pay attention to the exercises that the children seem most engaged with.
Exercise 1: Belly Breathing
Belly breathing is a breathing technique that reduces our heart rate and triggers a relaxation response. This breathing exercise can be added to your list of calming techniques for toddlers, as it plants the seed of self-regulation at a young age.
- Have the child lay on the floor and put one hand on their stomach.
- With the child’s mouth closed, have them breathe in through their nose for four seconds or until they feel their whole chest fill with air, all the way down to their belly.
- Have the child hold their breath for four seconds.
- Instruct the child to exhale slowly, like they are blowing through a straw.
- Repeat until the child feels relaxed. Ask how they’re feeling.
Exercise 2: Flower and Candle
This is a simple children’s relaxation technique that focuses on deep breathing.
- Have the child imagine that they have a flower in one hand and a candle in the other.
- Smell the flower: Breathe slowly in through the nose.
- Blow out the candle: Breathe slowly out through the mouth.
- Repeat three to five times, or as long as the child needs to relax.
Exercise 3: The 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Technique
This method also known as the 5 Senses Grounding Technique is a popular calming exercise for kids and adults. Creatively, you can use this as a calming technique for toddlers to also teach them numbers!
Using the 54321 method, you are focusing on one sense at a time and observing a certain number of things using that specific sense. To use this children’s relaxation technique, ask the child to do the following:
- Name 5 things they can see. Noticing and naming things they can see can help them focus on where they are in the moment.
- Name 4 things they can touch, and have them touch the objects. Have them describe the texture. Soft? Smooth? Rough?
- Name 3 things they can hear. Ask them to focus on the quieter sounds that they may not notice right away.
- Focus on 2 things they can smell. This may be the most challenging element of this technique, but this sense is a great way to elicit positive emotions.
- Focus on 1 thing they can taste. Consider having a selection of healthy snacks or gum in your classroom for quick access.
Exercise 4: The Big Squeeze
This exercise is a deep relaxation technique used to release stress and extra energy. Progressive muscle relaxation allows children to tense and then relax their muscles. Here’s how to do it:
- Starting from the toes: Tell the child to pretend they are on the beach and want to bury their toes in the sand. Curl toes for 5-10 seconds and then release.
- Move on to the legs: Tell the child to tense all the muscles in their legs for 5-10 seconds and then release.
- Continue moving up the body, all the way through the face, until the child is relaxed. Repeat the process if necessary.
Exercise 5: Nature Walk
Another calming exercise for kids and adults is going for a walk outside. To make the exercise more engaging, we suggest the following:
- Ask the child to name things that they hear.
- Ask the child to name things that are growing around them.
- Ask the child to rub a pine needle in their fingers and describe the smell.
This is a perfectly repeatable exercise that can be changed every day or every season. Their observations will continue to shift and they’ll be able to decompress while being outside.
Applying Calming Exercises for Kids to the Classroom
As you gain a better understanding of which calming techniques for toddlers and children work in the classroom, you’ll be able to identify when and how to apply the various methods.
Prepared with a solid understanding of ourselves and the needs of your little ones, puts you in the position to manage your classroom effectively and keep children’s relaxation and comfort a top priority.
CCEI’s professional development courses like From Chaotic to Calm: Managing Stress in the Classroom, The Value of Mindfulness in Early Childhood Settings, Trouble-Free Transitions that Teach, and Building Resilience in Young Children can help you further understand the needs of children in your classroom.